This review is reproduced here by kind permission of the Historians of British Art, who first published it in a Newsletter of 2006-2007. The original text has been adapted, reformatted and illustrated for the Victorian Web by Jacqueline Banerjee, who has also added captions and links. Many thanks to the Emery Walker House, Hammersmith, and the National Portrait Gallery, London, for permitting us to use their images, which remain their copyright. The image from the Internet Archive may be reproduced without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Please click on all the images to enlarge them.
Readers of the Victorian Web will perhaps be familiar with the name of William Morris's master printer, Emery Walker (1851-1933). There is no doubt that Morris's encounter with Walker was a decisive one, as he himself readily admitted: "I may tell you candidly, I was not much of a typographer before Mr. Walker took me in hand." They first met in 1883, not in a printing shop, but in the Metropolitan Railway which brought them back to Hammersmith after a Socialist meeting at Bethnal Green. Both lived from 1878-79 in a riverside house overlooking the Thames, a few yards from each other: William Morris at Kelmscott House (now the headquarters of the William Morris Society), and Emery Walker in Hammersmith Terrace, first at No 3 and later at No 7. The latter is now open to the public by appointment during the spring and summer (there is no electric lighting in the upper floors for dark winter days).
Left: Emery Walker. © National Portrait Gallery, London, by an unknown photographer. NPG x31064. Right: The Hammersmith Socialist Society. © National Portrait Gallery, London, possibly by Sir Emery Walker. NPG x19650.
Emery Walker, who founded his own printing firm at Hammersmith in 1886, was a convinced Socialist, and William Morris asked him to become the Secretary of the Hammersmith Branch, which he had founded in 1884, of the Democratic Federation – soon to become the Socialist League after their break with H.M. Hyndman. Walker, as the organiser of the Sunday lectures in the coach house of Kelmscott House, where the Branch was based, met there men such as George Bernard Shaw, who became lifelong friends. But his most passionate – and reciprocated – friendship was with William Morris: in the 1890s, until Morris's death in 1896, he saw him every day. Their passionate discussions on Socialism were only interrupted by their passionate discussions on the art of printing, on which Walker was an expert of such prominence that his lecture on the history of typography at the Arts & Crafts Exhibition of 1888 is now considered as the defining moment in the modern interest in that ancient craft. "Let's make a new fount of type," William Morris is reported to have told Walker as they travelled back to Hammersmith, even asking him to become his partner in the proposed Kelmscott Press, an invitation that Walker had to decline.
The dining-room at Emery Walker House.
The rest of the Kelmscott Press story is well known: Morris immediately started on a modern edition of The Golden Legend, printed with an original type – the "Golden Type" – designed from the photographic enlargements of classical types provided by Emery Walker. William Morris and Emery Walker went on to produce fifty-two works in sixty-six volumes until the Press closed following Morris' death. This was, however, only the beginning of a long career in "private presses" for Walker, who in 1900 went on to found the Doves Press with T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, until they went their separate ways in 1909 (a deranged Cobden-Sanderson ultimately throwing the founts into the Thames from Hammersmith Bridge) and Walker was also later associated with C.J. St John Hornby's Ashendene Press.
Title page of Printing. An essay by William Morris & Emery Walker. From "Arts & crafts essays by members of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society" (Park Ridge: The Village Press, 1903). Source: an Internet Archive copy of the book, contributed by the University of California Libraries.
The house at Hammersmith Terrace reflects all these associations and centres of interest, but to an enormously varying degree. Paradoxically, almost nothing remains of Emery Walker's central activity as a printer: the founts are now in the silt of the Thames (apparently some enthusiasts have tried vainly to retrieve them), and his complete collection of private press books, in whose production he had participated, now forms the Emery Walker Library at the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum after Elizabeth de Haas (1918-1999), the nurse-companion and heir of Dorothy, Emery Walker's daughter (1878-1963), sold them to Cheltenham in the early 1990s in order to endow the Emery Walker Trust, which now owns the house. On the other hand the most competent Curator (who sometimes acts as guide, as on the day I visited it), Dr Aileen Reid, is justifiably proud to point out that it is (to her knowledge) the only remaining house to be entirely decorated in original William Morris wallpaper (some produced in the 1920s, but from the Morris & Co. blocks). Likewise, the floor in the hall is covered in original Morris & Co. linoleum – apparently the only remaining example in a house (as opposed to a museum). In Dorothy's bedroom, under "modern" rugs, there is an original William Morris carpet with a unique design. The "Bird" hangings in the dining room probably came from Kelmscott House, as did the 17th-century chair with a cushion inscribed "MM to EW" (May Morris to Emery Walker). Also by May (who lived at No 8 until 1923) there is a magnificently embroidered bed cover in Dorothy's bedroom.
It is impossible to list here all the objects in the house which reflect Emery Walker's association with so many great men of his time, but one must at least draw attention to the furniture designed by Philip Webb (the architect of Red House), who bequeathed it to him, with all his personal belongings, on his death in 1915. There are also mementoes of Samuel Butler (of Erewhon fame), Lawrence of Arabia, Rudyard Kipling, George Bernard Shaw; and furniture and ceramics of the Costwold school (notably Ernest and Edward Barnsley, Ernest Gimson, Edward Gardiner and Alfred and Louise Powell). In fact the House loaned some of its treasures from that school to the major travelling Arts & Crafts Exhibition, in the United States at the time of writing.
In her commentary to visitors, the Curator rightly points out that the House is unique in that it is not a recreation like Kelmscott Manor: photographs taken in the 1930s show that Dorothy Walker and Elizabeth de Haas deliberately kept it as it was when Emery Walker died (only the bathroom and kitchen were "modernised" in the 1960s), and that it therefore constitutes an almost intact survival of an Arts and Crafts interior with no museological intervention. This alone makes a visit imperative to anyone interested in this artistic movement and the people associated with it.
One thing, however, has been transformed: the raised end of the garden, like that of the neighbours, was originally open at either side as a private but communal promenade, for the use of the seventeen houses of the Terrace – a "Socialist" arrangement which greatly pleased Emery Walker. Today, fences have been erected between all the gardens....
*The House is excellently described, with fine illustrations, and a superb list of relevant links, on the [offsite] Emery Walker Trust site (which also explains how to arrange a visit).
Last modified 14 November 2014